A Day Later, Agassi’s 5-Setter Has Painful Repercussions
Play resumed yesterday at the United States Open, with the fresh memory of Andre Agassi’s five-set, late-night victory over Marcos Baghdatis still sparking conversation as the forehands and backhands zipped and dipped over the nets.
But while spectators shook their heads and searched for superlatives, and players like James Blake made sartorial tributes on court, Agassi was nowhere to be seen at Flushing Meadows.
“I think he appreciates how great the match was, but he is also in a lot of pain,” his manager and close friend, Perry Rogers, said.
According to Rogers, Agassi was far too sore and stiff to practice after his 3-hour-48-minute second-round thriller that started Thursday evening and ended well after midnight.
Instead, Rogers said, Agassi spent the day resting, most of it in a horizontal position. He was given an anti-inflammatory injection in the afternoon to deal with the back pain. The pain had made it impossible for him to reach the exit of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center from the locker room after the match without stopping and lying on his back for a three-minute rest.
“It was awful,” Rogers said. “It was so bad that he had to lie down in the back of the car.”
Brad Gilbert, Agassi’s former coach, said, “Maybe he was just looking at the stars.’’
Agassi should have ample time for stargazing and other recreational activities after he finishes this tournament, which he has said will be the last of his 21-year career. But for now, his focus is firmly on trying to prepare his 36-year-old body for his third-round match against the qualifier Benjamin Becker of Germany.
“Believe me, I’ll exhaust all possibilities short of taking too many risks for long term,” Agassi said after beating Baghdatis. “I do want to make sure I give myself the best look here, but I don’t want to compromise the rest of my life.”
Rogers and Gilbert, who spoke with Agassi by telephone yesterday, said they believed that Agassi would be able to play his next match, scheduled for this afternoon.
Agassi has had at least six cortisone injections in his lower back in the past two seasons. According to Rogers, Agassi has had three this season: one in March, one in July after Wimbledon and one Tuesday after his first-round victory over Andrei Pavel.
“We don’t worry about the long term, because the doctors say this all the time, that it won’t have any long-term effects,” Rogers said. “You want him to leave every ounce of himself out on the court.”
Dr. Robert Gotlin, the director of orthopedics and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, said, “Typically, you can get three of those every six months and certainly be in the window of safety for an average person.”
Agassi has had three cortisone injections within that window, and although it is unlikely, he might decide to risk one more during this tournament if he continues to advance.
“Typically, you want to wait five to six days before the second one,” Gotlin said. “Typically, these injections kick in the first or second day and peak out the third and fourth day. The problem is the next couple days after that is when you’re typically in a low point.”
The potential low point is near, although yesterday’s anti-inflammatory treatment, which was not a cortisone shot, could provide further relief. Agassi is scheduled to play today, but the forecast is for heavy rain, which is expected to move the match to tomorrow.
Gilbert is not so certain a delay will be beneficial: if the match against Becker is moved to tomorrow and Agassi were to win, he would have to play again Monday.
“What he wants to avoid are back-to-back matches,” Gilbert said.
As surprising as it is that Agassi has managed to reach the third round despite a bad back, a bad season and a bad draw, it is nearly as surprising that Becker is there with him. His name and home country sound familiar, but his ranking of 112, his smallish physique and his understated demeanor bear little resemblance to the Becker who was once among Agassi’s major rivals.
Benjamin Becker, no relation to the 1989 Open champion Boris, was ranked outside the top 1,000 a year ago and was losing early in satellite tournaments.
But with the help of Andy Roddick’s former coach, Tarik Benhabiles, he has made a big move at an age when most players have already made theirs. Becker, 25, played tennis at Baylor University in Waco, Tex., and now splits his training time between Waco and Miami.
“It’s a dream come true,” Becker said of facing Agassi. “I was watching the match and obviously I was kind of hoping he would win, because it’s the last time you get a chance to play him. I grew up watching him play. He was an idol for me.”
Agassi was also a reference point for Baghdatis, the 21-year-old from Cyprus who pushed Agassi to the limit. Baghdatis rallied from a two-set deficit and might have finished off the comeback if he had not started having severe leg cramps at 4-4 in the fifth set.
Baghdatis said he had never cramped to that degree in a match. Although Agassi’s father, Mike, offered Baghdatis his condolences and a vial of anti-cramping medication outside their hotel in Midtown Manhattan yesterday afternoon, Baghdatis said he cramped because of emotion, not fatigue.
The emotion was still hard to shake after the match. Baghdatis burst into tears as he entered the locker room, where he and Agassi were soon laid out on adjacent tables to receive treatment.
“They were lying there, slapping each other’s hand,” Guillaume Peyre, Baghdatis’s coach, said. “They both looked close to dead.”
Later, Baghdatis and his coaches and friends walked through the streets of Manhattan near Times Square, rehashing the match and the moment, until 4:30 a.m.
“It felt like a final,” Peyre said.